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Prioritization – Key for a Scrum Product Owner

In any literature you would read about the concepts (and execution) of Scrum, you will find that one of the primary duties of the Scrum Product Owner is to have the Product Backlog maintained and ready to use at all points of time. What does this mean ? Well, it means that the Product Backlog (the repository of all the User Stories across Sprints) is kept in a prioritized condition, such that the team has an idea of what is coming next; further, when the Sprint Planning happens, it is this prioritized list of User Stories / Requirements that is pulled up and estimates are drawn on these User Stories. As a result, it seems pretty clear that making sure that a proper priority is set is one of the important attributes for a Product Owner.
Today’s post is about this very specific issue. Getting the priority right for the requirements for the Project is critical, and many Product Owners run against this very roadblock. Being able to draw the right priorities for the Product Requirements requires the ability to put together multiple inputs and factor in the relative importance of these different inputs. Consider the criticality of factors such as the changing business scenario (as an example where a new version of Google’s Chrome browser brings in a feature that could cause modification in the feature set of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer during the feature development process). However, there are other factors that are also important. In previous posts, we have talked about the importance of having a Product Vision, both to ensure that the Product Owner has a clear roadmap in their heads, and the same can be easily understood by the Product Team. So, a new feature by a competitor needs to be evaluated against the Vision for the Product; it may sometimes happen that a new feature does not really impact the feature set being developed by the team.
Being able to balance these different factors can be tough, and this is the area where the Product Owners can fail. If the rationale for being able to set the proper priorities for the different factors is not clear, then, queries from the team, from management, and environmental changes can be difficult for the Product Owner to handle in a convincing manner. This soon becomes apparent to the team, and can erode the confidence levels that the team and the stakeholder have in the Product Owner. Hence, ensuring that the various factors that govern the direction of the product need to be balanced is one of the top requirements of the Product Owner.

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